For the second time in one weekend, counter-protesters overshadowed and outnumbered far-right protesters in a Bay Area town. Chants of "No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA" filled the streets around the University of California Berkeley on Sunday as thousands of counter-protesters gathered in Berkeley, California, for the "Bay Area Rally Against Hate" organized in response to a controversial anti-marxism protest many feared would serve as a platform for white nationalists. Among them were many women motivated to peacefully take to the streets and stand up for what they believe in.
For Gabriella Raymond, a lifelong Berkeley resident who donned a pair of Groucho Marx glasses for Sunday's counter-protest, the decision to show up was personal. "This is my community and the park that I ate lunch in everyday in high school," Raymond says about Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley. "I won't sit at home while hate comes and takes it over. I've been watching with increasing concern the aggressive trolling and threatening behaviors of the protests being brought to Berkeley. Everyone has free speech, but no one has the right to terrorize a community."
The park was expected to be the location of a "No Marxism in America" protest organized by Amber Gwen Cummings, a transgender woman and Trump supporter who stressed racist groups were not welcome at her event. Cummings ended up cancelling her rally on Friday, citing safety concerns. Marxism is a series of political and economic theories developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel. In a Facebook page promoting the event, Cummings argued Marxism would turn America "from a free nation to a communist nation."
Yet while Cummings said her protest was about opposing Marxism and the teaching of it at universities like the University of California Berkeley, many counter-protesters weren't convinced. "We knew from the beginning this wasn't about Marxism," Berkeley resident Andrea Macrae tells Bustle. "Why the hell would you say no to Marxism? It's a philosophy for God's sake."
But for Macrae, Sunday's counter-protests weren't about aggressively confronting No-to-Marxism rally-goers. Rather, it was about peacefully representing Berkeley values. She planned to read a book on her giant rainbow blanket. "I'm not hiding in my house," Macrae says.
A few blocks away from the park on Oxford Street, a road that borders the university, counter-protesters were quickly establishing a jovial presence with lively music, enthusiastic chants, and even a few games of cornhole.
The belief that participating in counter-protests opposing bigotry and racism was more important than ever was a common sentiment among counter-protesters in Berkeley. In fact, for many, staying home simply wasn't an option. "We don't have the luxury of staying home and letting minorities and people of color do the hard work for us," San Pablo resident Julie S. tells Bustle while holding a sign reading, "Resist Fear, Assist Love."
"We have to show we are strong."
Other female counter-protesters identified a need to not only stand in solidarity with minority groups but to also actively work to provide member of those communities a bigger platform from which to be heard. "My position is that we need to be listening and amplifying the voices of women of color and women who are elected officials," Sarah Woods, whose daughter attends UC Berkeley, says. "Black women ... are leading the way in the Trump era. If anyone can articulate a vision for getting out of this mess it's women of color. So, I'm here to amplify their voices."
A few feet away, 27-year-old Oakland resident Rose Fried stood waving a sign emblazoned with a gold-glitter star of David encircling a fist of power. "My grandma did not survive Auschwitz for me to sit silent and afraid today — Jewish woman in solidarity w/ Muslim, refugee, black, Latinx, Queer, Native, POC, Humans!" the caption on Fried's sign read. Fried said her late grandmother never spoke about her experience at Auschwitz but that the family knew she'd been taken to the concentration camp from the Czech Republic toward the end of the war when she was 14 or 15 years old.
"I was scared and I was excited," Fried says about her initial feelings after she'd decided to attend Sunday's counter-protest. "I felt really empowered to make my voice heard and stand with so many people who felt the same way. I stand in solidarity with blacks, latinos, and immigrants," she said, adding that her experience working with refugees also contributed to her reasons for participating.
Sunday's "Bay Area Rally Against Hate" drew a diverse crowd of counter-protesters, including women of all ages. At the intersection of Oxford and Center streets, Renate Sadro and Helen Isaacson stood with other women from their organization, Grandmothers Against War. They said that although their group, which formed in 2005 in response to the Iraq war, traditionally focuses on driving and inspiring a non-violent anti-war/pro-peace movement, they'd felt compelled to come out to Berkeley's counter protest because "we are also seeing more conflict on the streets."
"We feel we must be active because we worry about our children, our grandchildren, and their future children," Isaacson tells Bustle. "I think people have to show that [they] won't let fascists rule this country. We have to show we are strong. We are nonviolent, but those forces looking to destroy all that is good in this country won't prevail."
But just as there were those with a long-history of political activism, Berkeley's counter-protest also drew first-time protesters like Searit Huluf, who moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles. "I was really scared to come out because there's been a violent, negative trend between protests now," Huluf says. "Now I feel really good and happy I came out and it's made me want to go to more in the future."
Huluf said it was "upsetting" to have white nationalists, white supremacists, and similarly hate-fueled groups holding rallies around the country but emphasized that "people should know they've always been there." "Now we have a president who allows them to come out of the closet," she said.
"This is about love."
Although most of those present at Sunday's counter-protest were Berkeley or Bay Area residents, some, like 28-year-old Qhawa (who told Bustle they identify as gender fluid) traveled hundreds of miles to participate. Qhawa drove down from Portland with a friend to hand out free tampons, fruit, granola bars, and other snacks to counter-protesters in both Berkeley and San Francisco. "I don't think when the struggle is going on that people don't ever not need help," Qhawa said about why they'd made the trip.
At around 12:30 p.m. local time counter-protesters near UC Berkeley began organizing themselves for a short march to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where a small number of far-right protesters had begun to gather. "When racists attack, we fight back," the group chanted as they waited for the OK to march from police. "When Nazis attack, we fight back. Stand up. Fight back,"
Toward the back of the group, Arezu Moshirian's rainbow hair was impossible to miss. "I'm doing this for my kids because I don't want them to face hate when they grow up," the Iran-born speech pathologist and children's yoga teacher told Bustle. "Initially when I thought about coming I was really afraid, so there was a lot of inner fear I had to work through. But I'm really pleased that it's so peaceful. This is about love."
Marching with Moshirian— and the help of two trekking poles — was 68-year-old Richmond resident Susan Bell. "I refuse to be intimidated," Bell told Bustle. "I just had to stand up and say, not on my watch." Although Bell admitted that attending the counter-protest and participating in the march was "really hard" on her physically, she said she felt it was important to come out "because in the face of hatred the most powerful response is this kind of action — love."